VITAL Faculty: A Growing Workforce in Colleges and Universities

By Rachel Levy, Deputy Executive Director of the Mathematical Association of America

The landscape of faculty positions is changing, as documented in the CBMS survey report.  To get a comparison from 2010 to 2015 you can enjoy a little data dive into table E.5 below and find plenty more online in the full report.  Faculty jobs have varying levels of security, benefits, duties and privileges. Job categories such as NTT (non-tenure track) and NTL (non-tenure line) are growing in number. The reality is that most departments depend on these faculty, and I wonder about the impression we give when we describe their jobs as “non-something-we-value.”

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A related phenomenon occurs when jobs in industry are referred to as “non-academic.”  In forming the MAA BIG SIGMAA, the acronym BIG was adopted to refer to business, industry and government jobs, as a more positive alternative to non-academic. Folks in industry have pulled me aside on many occasions and asked me to help people transition to more positive terminology to describe the work they do. So we adopted this same term for the BIG Math Network and the BIG Jobs Guide. Of course no term is perfect.  Another widely accepted alternative is just the term “industry,” which is what we use for MAA PIC Math.  

What if we were to create a similarly positive acronym, VITAL, for the Visitors, Instructors, TAs, Adjuncts and Lecturers who teach most of the students in many institutions?  For many students, these faculty provide their first experience of college mathematics in the critical early years. Their teacher, regardless of title, is the primary facilitator of their learning experience.

The MAA values the many ways all faculty contribute to their institutions and communities. We provide environments where faculty can realize and celebrate the values of inclusivity, teaching and learning, community and communication.  MAA Programs such as College Mathematics Instructor Development Source and Progress through Calculus are supporting faculty who serve students in their early college years. The MAA community also can provide continuity when a job location or description changes. I hope to hear ideas from you about additional ways the MAA can honor and support the work of VITAL faculty as their roles and influence continue to grow.